Soap opera veteran Maurice Benard (Sonny Corinthos, General Hospital; ex-Nico Kelly, All My Children) has spent the last 20 years speaking out about mental illness, following the reveal in 2000 that he has bipolar disorder. But for decades prior to going public about his issues, he privately struggled with anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, hospitalization, manic outbursts, and violence -- which his family and his wife, Paula, bore the brunt of.
In his new memoir, Nothing General About It, which was released this week, Benard details some of the terrifying experiences he and his family went through as he struggled with his illness. He began having manic episodes at a fairly young age, and when he was 21, he became so violent, his parents called the police and had him admitted into a mental hospital. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 22 and was prescribed lithium, which he calls "a heavy-duty drug," to even out the chemical imbalance in his brain.
"In my case, it was a miracle drug," he writes. "I could function."
But later, as Benard's career as an actor really began taking off, he decided to stop taking his medication. "I was feeling great," he recalls. "My head told me I didn't need meds because I wasn't sick."
But in 1993, just shortly after he'd landed the role of GH's Sonny, he suffered his third and most violent breakdown, which he recounts in painful detail in his book.
"Two weeks in, I began hearing voices. At the end of the two weeks, I was completely delusional," he writes. "Since I'm a method actor, the people at work thought I was just really into the role. At home, I began behaving like my character -- mean, tough, and lethal."
Eventually, the voices in his head told him to confess, so through "twitching and crying," he told his wife, Paula, that he'd been visiting strip clubs and seeing other women.
"Paula was mad, but she was also crying because she was so frightened," Benard reveals. "I grabbed a bottle of wine and drank the entire contents before throwing it at her. I held her toy poodle over my head and said I would kill him. At one point I threatened to kill Paula, but as I raged and hovered over her, she stayed, trying to talk me down. Eventually I dozed off, and that gave Paula a chance to call [my psychiatrist] Dr. Noonan, who called in a prescription for a tranquilizer she went to pick up. When she got home from the drugstore, I was waiting with a broken bottle."
Fortunately, Benard returned to taking his medication after that breakdown. And a few years later, he began working with the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance and the National Alliance on Mental Illness. He also pushed for the extremely emotional GH storyline in which Sonny dealt with bipolar disorder.
"When I speak out, people tell me they feel like they're not alone," says Benard. "I've now been on lithium 27 years straight. I think I've done alright."
What do you think about some of the intense situations Maurice Benard details in his new memoir, Nothing General About It? Are you glad to hear a strong voice in support of treating mental illness? We want to hear from you -- and there are many ways you can share your thoughts.